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Slimantics: Confederate monuments speak for themselves


Slim Smith



The effort to change the Mississippi flag seems to be going nowhere, at least legislatively. 


Earlier this week, another handful of bills addressing the subject died as the deadline for advancing bills out of committee in both houses came and went. 


While skittish legislators continue to pass on tackling the subject, only a vague suggestion that the matter be put to the voters remains, perhaps in 2019 when the state-wide races are held. 


The fight to remove the flag, with its conspicuous Confederate imagery, has instead be waged on the local level, with about a dozen cities and counties removing the flag from official buildings. 


There is also a grass-roots effort to attack the residue of Confederacy on another front -- the monuments and statues erected around the state about the time that the state's Jim Crow laws went into effect and the years soon after. 


There are currently 25 such monuments on display at county courthouses throughout the state. Another courthouse monument -- in Ripley -- is no longer present. It was hit by a truck and destroyed in 1970. The county initially planned to replace it, but its insurance was not sufficient to cover the costs. 


State law prohibits the destruction of the monuments and Rep. Karl Oliver of Winona infamously suggested that anyone who tried to remove the monuments should be lynched. Oliver, a Republican, continues as a member of the House in good standing, which is telling. 


Removing these monuments would require only a vote by the county's supervisors, so the possibility of relocating these monument from public to private spaces would not require state-wide consensus. 


That is not to say any effort to remove the monuments would be easy, even though it's hard to make a legitimate case for why they should remain. 


The argument in defense of the monuments is that they exist as a part of our state's history and heritage and, as such, their presence should not be considered offensive. 


In the Golden Triangle, there are two such monuments -- one at the Lowndes County Courthouse in Columbus and the other at the Noxubee County Courthouse in Macon. 


The Macon monument bears no inscriptions. It lists the names of the 213 Noxubee County men who died in the Civil War under the heading "The Confederate Dead." 


The Macon monument is more the exception than the rule, though. Most paint a glorious portrait of the cause of the Confederacy. 


The inscription at the Columbus monument is typical of that larger group. 


It reads: 


"A tribute of love to our honored dead: (nothing offensive so far) whose memory, we enshrine in our hearts, (still OK) whose principles of right, as a sacred heritage, we bequeath to our children through all generations. (OK, now we have a problem). 


Somehow, no one is supposed to be offended by the idea that the "principles of right" (the preservation of slavery at all costs) and "sacred" (God-ordained) should be handed down to "our children through all generations" (that future Mississippians should remain defiantly opposed to equality). 


That's the problem with any defense of these monuments -- the inscriptions on the monuments themselves defy the argument that they are merely benign remembrances of our fallen ancestors. 


Using language that not even the Karl Olivers of our state would dare commit to writing today, these monuments are an affirmation of white supremacy and a rebuke of equality. 


In some places, white supremacy is an idea that circulates among the like-minded in the safety of their ideological cocoons. 


In Mississippi, white supremacy is literally written in stone. 



Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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